Wednesday, 7 October 2015

rhubarb and strawberry crumble

You know those lame family jokes that I believe every family has a set of? My husband is the author of most of ours and even managed to make one about crumbles. Every time I'm preparing a crumble - rhubarb and strawberry is our favourite - he or any of the children can be heard singing a line from Adele's Bond song Skyfall, with slight changes. Instead of when it crumbles, they sing let it crumble. I know, terribly lame, but still it puts a smile on my face every time. I don't know what it is with a crumble baking in the oven, but it seems that ten minutes before it's ready everyone is already in the kitchen waiting, even walking around my farm table and peeking through the oven window. It must be the aroma. Crumbles are indeed comforting, even more so in autumn when the leaves have started to turn.

We are very fond of rhubarb crumbles with either fresh strawberries or blueberries, preferably both, but fresh plums and apricots are also wonderful. Instead of adding much sugar to the fruit and berry base, I use chopped semi-dried dates and only two tablespoons of sugar. Dates are naturally rich in sugar but they are also a good source of dietary fibre.

Most of you are probably used to plenty of butter in the crumble topping but mine contains none. I don't bake or cook with butter. I rub a bit of soft coconut oil into spelt flour and then I usually add ground almonds, or finely chopped, for that delicious crunchy texture. Walnuts and hazelnuts are also ideal.

When I was growing up I spent much time with my paternal grandparents. Their rhubarb bed in the garden was large and we ate the stalks like candy. The rhubarb was also used to make jam and my mother would often prepare a rhubarb pudding for dessert. Here in the UK, a rhubarb pudding looks like a cake - nothing like my mother used to make. I guess my mother's version could be called Nordic style rhubarb pudding. It was smooth like a thick soup or a smoothie, served warm with cream - sugary and delicious!

I had already posted a rhubarb and strawberry crumble recipe on the old food blog. In essence, this is the same recipe but the base is larger and I have added blueberries. You can replace the blueberries with more strawberries or other berries. We lived in Luxembourg when I put the recipe together and were so lucky to have rhubarb in the garden. I was inspired by a rhubarb and blueberry crumble recipe from my friend CafeSigrun that I had tried and loved. Remember her cookbook that I told you about? It just got published in Iceland. In fact, this morning I was listening to a live interview with her on an Icelandic radio station where she was introducing it. More on the book later. If you are expecting guests and want to serve the crumble for dessert you can prepare everything beforehand but wait with topping the base. Do so right before the crumble goes into the oven or else you will lose the crunchy texture that makes a crumble so tasty.


fruit & berry compote/base
400-450 g rhubarb
300 g strawberries
150 g blueberries
100 g semi-dried dates
2 tablespoons unrefined cane sugar
1 teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

crumble topping
50 g ground almonds or finely chopped
100 g white spelt flour
3 tablespoons unrefined cane sugar
2 tablespoons coconut oil, soft
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice or water

Fruit and berry base: Wash the rhubarb, trim off the leaves and chop the stalks into 2-2.5 cm chunks (about 1 inch) and put them into a large bowl. If the stalks are chunky chop them more finely. Rinse and hull the strawberries. Depending on their size, either halve or quarter the strawberries and add them to the bowl. Remove the stones, then chop the dates finely and add them to the bowl. Finally add the sugar, ground ginger and nutmeg and mix gently with a spoon. Set aside while preparing the crumble topping.

Crumble topping: If not using store-bought ground almonds, process whole almonds in a food processor. Set them aside. Combine the spelt flour and sugar in a bowl. Add the soft coconut oil and rub together with your fingertips (if it's warm and your coconut oil is in a liquid form then simply place it in the fridge before using). Add the ground almonds and orange juice and rub together a little longer.

Put the compote in a pie dish and spread it evenly (mine is 25 x 5 cm (about 10 x 2 in.) with sides that don't slope much). Top the compote with the crumble topping and bake at 200°C/400°F (180° C fan oven) for 30 minutes, until golden brown on top. If the top starts getting too brown, you may want to cover it with baking parchment or foil about ten minutes before the crumble is ready.

Allow the crumble to cool for a few minutes before serving with whipped cream, home-made vanilla ice cream or Greek yoghurt.

Uppskrift á íslensku.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

The Diary of Virginia Woolf - Volume 1

"Something interesting happens every day" are words spoken by Virginia Woolf that my son and I have taken to heart and turned into a question that we ask each other every day. It started in the summer when I was reading The Diary of Virginia Woolf - Volume 1: 1915-19, part of my ongoing Woolf-and-Bloomsbury-group phase. They appear in a short documentary, The Mind and Times of Virginia Woolf, in the bonus material of The Hours (2002) DVD (towards the end, at minute 24). One interviewee was the late Nigel Nicolson, the son of Woolf's closest friend Vita Sackville-West. He talks about his childhood memories of Woolf, about the questions she would ask about events of the day, and how she would encourage keeping a diary because 'something interesting happens every day'.

For those who thrive on the thrill of a good plot in novels, perhaps reading diary entries with everyday descriptions of the weather, or whatever, doesn't sound interesting. I think one has to be intrigued by any kind of life writing to enjoy such books. In the case of Woolf's diaries, I think it helps to be a fan of her work. My idea was to end my evening reading with one or two entries from Volume 1 but I always read more. What I found most fascinating is her way of observing people and her surroundings. The precise descriptions sometimes feel like poetry, even if she is only describing the weather or the changing of the seasons. Then there is life during the Great War, which interested me. "Happily the weather is turned cloudy; spring blotted out, but one must sacrifice spring to the war" (p. 128 - 15 March 1918).

The diaries, five volumes, were edited by Anne Olivier Bell (wife of Quentin, the son of Woolf's sister, Vanessa Bell). There are footnotes for those who want to know more about the people and events Woolf writes about. The first volume covers the years 1915 to 1919. "My writing now delights me solely because I love writing & dont [sic], honestly, care a hang what anyone says. What seas of horror one dives through in order to pick up these pearls—however they are worth it" (p. 20 - 16 January 1915). After six weeks of entries the diary stops in February 1915, when Woolf slid into madness, right before the publishing of her first work, The Voyage Out, in March 1915. Sadly, two years before she had tried to commit suicide. Because of her mental problems there is silence until 1917 when she starts again with brief entries. In the autumn the entries get longer but it isn't until in 1918 that the diary takes off and becomes an essential part of her life. In January 1919 she writes:

I note however that this diary writing does not count as writing, since I have just reread my years diary & am much struck by the rapid haphazard gallop at which it swings along, sometimes indeed jerking almost intolerably over the cobbles. Still if it were not written rather faster than the fastest typewriting, if I stopped & took thought, it would never be written at all; & the advantage of the method is that it sweeps up accidentally several stray matters which I should exclude if I hesitated, but which are the diamonds of the dustheap. (p. 233-34)

On the back cover: The Monk's House kitchen entry, Virginia and Leonard Woolf's home in Rodmell.

In April 1919, Woolf writes a long entry where she contemplates on her diary writing:

I got out this diary, & read as one always does read one's own writing, with a kind of guilty intensity. I confess that the rough & random style of it, often so ungrammatical, & crying for a word altered, afflicted me somewhat. . . . But what is more to the point is my belief that the habit of writing thus for my own eye only is good practise. It loosens the ligaments. Never mind the misses & the stumbles. . . . What sort of diary should I like mine to be? Something loose knit, & yet not slovenly, so elastic that it will embrace any thing, solemn, slight or beautiful that comes into my mind. I should like it to resemble some deep old desk, or capacious hold-all, in which one flings a mass of odds & ends without looking them through. (p. 266)

I am currently waiting for a copy of Volume 2: 1920-24 to arrive in the mail, looking forward to picking up where I left off. For those of you who aren't into diaries but are interested in her life, there is a biography called Virginia Woolf by Hermione Lee, which I intend to read when I'm done with all the five volumes of the diaries. Lee is one of the interviewee in the aforementioned documentary.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Iznik pottery and pear muffins

There are a few things to be happy for in this September. There is a new coffee house in the next village that pleasantly surprised me with stylish interior design, where rustic style meets industrial. I'm finding an excuse to bicycle to the post office more often only to sit down with a book and a latte before heading back home. Then there is a feature on Iznik pottery in the latest The World of Interiors issue with mesmerising motifs and colours. Downton Abbey is back with an interesting storyline and gorgeous costume design. Did you notice Lady Mary's blue kimono style robe? What else? The heavenly scent of pear muffins baking in the oven. The little things...

Let us start with that feature in the October issue of The World of Interiors, where art historian John Carswell reviews the catalogue Iznik: The Omer Koç Collection by Hülya Bilgi (600 pages, weighs 5 kilos, sold by John Sandoe Books; the second book on the list). It shows the Iznik pottery collection of the Koç family, the wealthiest in Turkey. In his interesting review, Carswell briefly tells the story of the Iznik pottery industry from the beginning of the 15th century until its end 300 years later. In the old days, the formerly Byzantine town Iznik, 100 km south-east of Istanbul, flourished because of its position on the main trade route across Anatolia (Asia Minor) from the East. Today it's a "sleepy little town" but in the late 13th century it was "one of the first centres occupied by the Ottoman dynasty" (p. 111).

The images accompanying the article show fascinating motifs on tiles, jugs and dishes, painted in vivid colours. According to Carswell, the hallmarks of Iznik design were cobalt blue, turquoise, manganese purple, olive green and red. "The designs combine purely Turkish motifs with elements transposed from imported Chinese blue-and-white porcelain" and he adds later that "[w]e have no clue why they chose a specific set of motifs and combined them in such a distinctive and particular way" (p. 112).

If you happen to be travelling to Turkey you may want to visit the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, to enjoy Iznik tiles. The aforementioned catalogue isn't within my current book-budget but for those interested I found two less pricy books online that I would like to have a look at and perhaps offer a permanent place on my coffee table: Iznik Pottery and Tiles: In the Calouste Gulbenkian Collection by Maria d'Orey Capucho and Iznik: The Artistry of Ottoman Ceramics by Walter B. Denny.

I'm not quite done with patterns. Series 6 of Downton Abbey is upon us and I am head-over-heels in love with Lady Mary's blue kimono style robe that Michelle Dockery wore gracefully in a few scenes in the first episode. I tried to find images of it online to see the pattern in detail, but I had no luck so I just paused a scene on the ITV Player and snapped photos of my tablet (please excuse the poor quality).

I don't know whether the robe/kimono is vintage or especially designed for the show but I love its cut and colour. I think costume designer Anna Robbins is doing a great job with displaying the style of the 1920s. I have to admit that the exhausting plots of the last Downton Abbey series almost made me give up on the show but I'm glad I gave it a chance on Sunday. That first episode was promising ... at least the costumes.

Spotted in these images: Benaki wallpaper sample in blue mink (LW 198381) by Lewis & Wood
and Wild Thing fabric sample in copper cobalt (LW 188335).

With October approaching and autumn just around the corner, it's time to embrace the season and turn all those wonderful pears into muffins. You should have seen my children's happy faces when these were waiting for them after school the other day.

These muffins are moderately sugary and stuffed with pears. Someone asked me recently why I use gluten-free baking powder when I bake with flour containing gluten. The simple reason is that the gluten-free baking powder from Doves Farm is my favourite. I don't like regular baking powder, which always seems to have an annoying aftertaste (use 50% less in the recipe if using regular). A note on choosing between the pureed pears and buttermilk for the wet mixture: It depends on whether the pears I use are juicy or slightly firm. If they are firm I like using pureed pears as well (I buy Hipp Organic jars in the baby food section), which give the muffins a richer pear taste, and I use less honey. If using juicy and sweet pears I make my own buttermilk with milk and lemon juice (see tip below), increase the honey and usually skip the pinch of ground cloves. American readers please note that 1 cup of flour is about 125-135 grams, which means there are about 2 cups in the recipe, depending on the type you use.


3 medium-sized pears
1 large egg, free-range
75 g unrefined cane sugar (¼ cup)
½-1½ tablespoon organic honey (or pure maple syrup)
1½ tablespoon coconut oil
60 ml organic pureed pears or buttermilk (¼ cup)
200 g white spelt flour (or organic plain flour)
50 g wholemeal spelt flour
2½ teaspoons baking powder, gluten-free
¼ teaspoon fine sea/Himalayan salt
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
optional: a pinch of ground cloves

Peel and core the pears before chopping them finely. Put them aside.

Whisk together the egg, sugar, honey, pureed pears, and coconut oil in a bowl (if the coconut oil is solid place the closed jar in a bowl of hot water before use). If you are making home-made buttermilk, instead of using pureed pears, let it sit in the measuring cup for a few minutes and whisk it in when it has thickened.

Measure the spelt flour, baking powder, salt and spices into another bowl.

Fold the wet mixture gently into the dry one with a spoon or a spatula and then gently stir in the finely diced pears. At first the batter may appear dry but the pears will add moisture.

Lightly grease 12 silicone muffin cups with coconut oil, spoon the batter into them and place the cups in a muffin tin. Bake at 200°C/400°F (180°C fan oven) for 22-25 minutes. When you have taken the muffins out of the oven, wait for a few minutes before removing them from the silicone cups and then place them on a wire cooling rack.

Uppskrift á íslensku.

If you rather want to use buttermilk instead of pureed pears, it's very easy to make your own. Pour 60 ml (¼ cup) of milk into a measuring cup and add to it 1 teaspoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice. Stir gently and let it sit for a few minutes until it has thickened.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Lewis & Wood - The English Ethnic collection

In my last blog post I included samples from Lewis & Wood, an English textile and wallpaper company, and said I would share more later. They had sent me a stack of both fabric and wallpaper samples, some that had already attracted my attention online. The surprise were patterns they included in the package that hadn't caught my attention on their website but looked so incredibly beautiful when I was able to see the design details with my own eyes and feel the texture. I plan to share a few patterns later but today, with my latte, I'm focusing on the Womad and Bacchus patterns from their English Ethnic collection that arrived on the market last year. The collection, designed by artists Su Daybell, Flora Roberts and Melissa White, has been well received and featured in various magazines.

At Lewis & Wood they refer to Su Daybell as their wild card. She is the artist who created the arresting Womad pattern that has abstract flowers and motifs. The 100% linen fabric is available in two colours, burnish and celestial. To say that I have a major crush on the burnish one, in my top photo, would be an understatement. I honestly cannot stop admiring it. The colour palette of the Womad wallpaper consists of three beautiful hues of blue, brown and yellow, called stream, silt and sand.

In the foreground: Womad wallpaper samples in (from left) silt, sand and stream.

For the collection, Daybell also designed the Force 9 pattern, suited for anyone unafraid of bold design. For those interested, a styling in the September 2014 issue of House & Garden shows it in a colour called gravel.

Bacchus wallpaper and fabric in mead by artist Melissa White.

The Bacchus pattern by artist Melissa White for the English Ethnic collection is certainly on the market to stay. In the August 2015 issue of The World of Interiors its bluish colour - grigio - was selected in a round up of the best bold large-scale patterns on the market. The BBC Antiques Roadshow Magazine selected the pattern, in mead, as their winner of 'Best Printed Fabric 2014'. In their July 2014 issue they featured White at work in her studio where you can view her original artwork for the Bacchus design.

In a brochure from Lewis & Wood, introducing the collection and its designers, it says that Melissa White is well known for her Elizabethan wall paintings and painted cloths, that her "scholarly fascination with surface decoration and historical detail" give her designs a "real authority". The Bacchus pattern, 100% linen fabric and wallpaper, is available in three colours, mead, malt (greyish) and grigio. Not shown in this blog post is her other design for the collection, the Rococo wallpaper.

Decorative muralist Flora Roberts was the third artist chosen to design for the English Ethnic collection. You can view her stunning patterns Doves and Sika on the Lewis & Wood website.

Lewis & Wood was founded in 1993 by textile printer Stephen Lewis and interior designer Joanna Wood. In the beginning the operation was in a London basement but in 2008 the company moved to a large building in Woodchester Mill, in the Stroud Valleys in Gloucestershire. If you happen to be in London their showroom is on the first floor of the Design Centre East at Chelsea Harbour.

In the left corner, a detail of the Bacchus fabric in grigio by artist Melissa White.